Friday, October 26, 2007

A New Look at Plural Marriage (Thanks to Oprah)

I haven't given the idea polygamy (or, to be PC about it, "plural marriage") much thought in the past, but today's Oprah show -- and one comment in particular-- really made me ponder the issue and question my prejudices.

Valarie, who seems like a normal, articulate, family-oriented soccer mom, shares her husband with two other women. Her family seems to be filled with love, and everyone involved is very happy with the family's arrangement. Since my image of polygamy has been based on media that depicts plural marriages as oppressive, extremist, sexist, and stuck in some other century, I was quite surprised to see Valerie speak of her open, wholesome, supportive, and very contemporary family.

But it was something Valerie said that made me (and Oprah) question my own attitudes and ask whether we're a nation of double standards. As a supporter of gay marriage, I believe that any loving couple should be allowed to form a legal union and to marry if that's their desire. I had never considered whether this should or shouldn't apply to plural marriage; to tell you the truth, I just never gave it any thought. But this afternoon when I heard Valerie say, "I feel like I should have the right to live this way when this is a world of such alternative lifestyles," I stopped dead in my proverbial tracks.

She is absolutely right! If we're going to be accepting of other alternative life styles (and I think that, as long as those involved are consenting adults and no one gets hurt, we should be), then shouldn't we be just as accepting of plural marriage?

(There's a polygamist sect in Colorado City, Arizona which is oppressive, extremist and dangerous, and people are getting hurt in those situations. But those families aren't hurting because they're plural; they're hurting because of oppressive, abusive, domineering, extremist attitudes -- the same attitudes that hurt heterosexual marriages and families.)

What do you think? In a "world of such alternative lifestyles," as Valerie put it, should she and her plural family have a "right to live this way"?

And here's another interesting question to ponder: If pluralists want others to embrace their alternate lifestyle and their marriages that defy "traditional" American morals, then do they also embrace those who ask for the same tolerance regarding different alternate marriages... like gay marriage?

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Guilty Secret said...

I think you make a good point about it being just another alternative lifestyle. Have you ever seen the tv shoe 'Big Love'? It is about a family just like the on you described.

mks said...

Personally I am far too much of the jealous type to share my husband with anyone and simply don't have enough energy to give to more than one marriage nor do I want to.


If all persons are grown consenting adults and everyone is open about what is going on - i say "let it be". My concern would be for children involved, the same as with gay/lesbian parents, anything that is "out of what the majority considers "standard" can be harder for a child to understand and such. Also I think that polygamy is slightly behind in acceptance than gay lesibians parenting. Making it all that much harder to fight sterotypes, that mommy sleeps with alot of men, or I have 3 mommies at different homes.


Again if they can work it out and no one is getting hurt by it. To each their own!

Anonymous said...

I think they should have the "right" to live that way. In other words a man can live with and impregnate as many women as he wants, but I don't think each "wife" should be entitled to the same legal benefits that spouses currently get. How do you deal with health insurance? Social Security? Inheritance rights? I don't care who has sex with whom and I think EVERYONE (gay or hetero) is entitled to designate ONE person as his or her LEGAL spouse.

Anonymous said...

Like you, I have never given this subject a thought. But now that I have, I wholeheartedly agree with anonymous.

Jen said...

This is an interesting question in terms of the tolerance being extended in both directions.

And anonymous brings up some interesting questions in terms of the legal aspects. And I wonder if people might start using fake plural marriages to get more health care coverage, etc.

And if not all spouses are covered, where is the fairness in that for the spouses and their children who don't have the coverage?

Hmmm... another argument for universal health care!

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Jen that we need Universal Healthcare (like yesterday!). But even without it, all children, no matter what "marriage" they are from would currently be covered by a father's health coverage (or mother's if she's employed). I just think that our society shouldn't have to treat multiple "spouses" as the same in the eyes of the law. Not that there's anything objectively morally wrong with the idea of having multiple spouses, just that it would become unwieldy and subject to abuse.

The "fairness" is that the "choice" of becoming a man's third wife may be that our society doesn't treat you the same way as we treat the first wife in terms of legality. For instance who gets to determine whether or not to pull the plug or give lifesaving treatment, etc.

Anonymous said...

So, out of curiosity, if everyone is questioning the alternativeness of this, why is it always a man with multiple wives? It seems more "wrong" the other way, but why?

blackcrag said...

How can a plural marriage be any more confusing to a child than what already exists and is acceptable in today's society?

A man and woman fall in love, get married and have a child. A couple years in they decide they really don't love each other, divorce, and later on marry other partners and have children in the new marriage. The child has two homes, complete with two sets of parents, and half-siblings.

A stable and dedicated (to each other)group of adults can't produce a more complicated situation than that of divorced and remarried parents, and no one blinks an eye at that multiple partnering.

Christina | said...

I came to this conclusion also when arguing with a relative about gay marriage. They brought up, "Well, what about polygamy?" and I stopped short. After thinking about it, I decided that if everyone is an adult and consenting and not coerced in any way, why not. The benefits thing could be a problem, but I don't see polygamy as becoming that widespread. Like MKS, I think most people couldn't handle sharing a spouse. People can marry just for benefits, but couldn't the insurance company just investigate it, like the US does with green card marriages?

Anonymous said...

I actually find this topic quite intriguing. My only question is "how would one approach another woman and present the "proposed" relationship to her?" Its not like it would be an easy subject to just bring up. PF

Blog Antagonist said...

I think you're right. If people enter into these relationships of their own free will and they are not being exploited or abused, then who cares?

I used to know a woman who had a polyamorous marriage. She had two husbands and 10 children at last count, by both of them.

They seemed happy and well adjusted, even if I found their lifestyle a little odd.

C said...

If three(or more) adults want to share their life and raise their kids together, whose business is it? Even if the government won't recognize the marriage, they should at least decriminalize it. If no one is being hurt, there is NO crime!

Anonymous said...

i was born rlds and now iam lds i feel strongly about plural marriage i feel if a woman can allow her husband to take another wife shows her true love for him


Anonymous said...

You're just now figuring this out!


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